I've spent more than 30 years helping organizations market meetings. While most are adept at planning and conducting meetings, few market them properly. If you put your soul into what promised to be a real blockbuster convention, but nobody showed up, chances are your marketing plan — if you even had one — failed. Here, briefly, are the five mistakes I see over and over:

  1. Confusing good looks with good marketing

    Turning to a graphic designer to solve your marketing problem is like taking your car to the car wash for a tune-up. It will look prettier, but it won't run any better.

    Studies show that only 20 percent of the success of a direct marketing campaign is attributable to the design work. You have to understand how to market your meetings or you have to work with someone who does.

  2. Relying on e-marketing alone

    We're a long way from a “paperless” society. While e-mails, e-newsletters, Web sites, social media, and space ads are valuable support marketing tools, they can't replace direct-mail promotions. A good majority of your registrations will still be generated by pieces sent through the mail.

    Not sure the extra cost of paper mail is worth it? Consider this startling fact: The open rate for direct mail is 92 percent; the open rate for e-mail is 12 percent.

  3. Mailing your registration promotion just once

    Reliable marketing studies show that a second mailing (the same piece, the same mailing list) will generate from 20 percent to 40 percent — or even more — of the response you realized from your first mailing. When you crunch the numbers, including the extraordinary economies of scale in the printing, you find that second, third, and even fourth mailings of your meeting promotions will pay you back very well indeed.

  4. Writing lackluster copy

    Engaging copy fills meeting seats. Write your copy from a potential registrant's perspective. Good copy points out the benefits of attending a meeting, not just the features of a meeting. For example, here's the feature: “Joe Smith will be conducting a workshop on setting up a retirement plan.” But here's the benefit: “Learn how to retire at age 50!” If design is 20 percent, the copy is responsible for 40 percent of a promotion's success. (The other 40 percent? The mailing list!)

  5. Failing to set — and follow — a schedule

    This is my marketing pet peeve: A well-written, exciting meeting piece is ready to be posted on the Web site and to be printed and mailed, but the meeting planner (or her boss) wants to wait until all of the speakers are confirmed before moving ahead. This is a colossal mistake.

    If your potential registrant is confident that you know how to put on a good meeting, he or she will be confident you'll find a qualified speaker to address a chosen topic. I promise that you will not lose a registrant because a speaker is not confirmed. I also promise that you will lose registrants by postponing your advertising. There's no gray area here. Set a schedule and stick to it.

Bill Carney is director of business development for the Drohan Management Group in Reston, Va., and the director of its DMG Communications arm, which specializes in helping organizations market meetings. Reach him at (703) 234-4128 or bcarney@drohanmgmt.com.